There is a story that goes: A jazz musician was giving Harry Connick Jr. a hard time about being expected to be an "entertainer" rather than a simply a serious jazzman. "Monk wasn't no entertainer," he accused. "Yeah," replied Connick, "But you ain't no Monk." Often, singer-songwriters, smitten more by the legend of Dylan than the actuality, believe that, like early Bobby, they need do no more than strum a guitar, wheeze into a harmonica, and let the power of their songs transport the audience. And though for a very few that might be the case, to the rest of them I say, "Yeah, but you ain't no Dylan."
Matthew Ryan, who pound for pound comes closer to Dylan than most, has quickly moved beyond the "let's pretend I'm a country troubadour" stage and has been making records that live in the modern world, where making records has become an art form in and of itself. Despite being rife with powerful feelings and dark thoughts, From A Late Night High Rise is not afraid to entertain, with echoes of Eighties and Nineties Brit-pop, and production tricks that pull you into the urban-oriented world of today. The distant drums, feedback guitar, and strings of "Follow The Leader" lend an emotional weight to the sense of desperate longing intimated by the lyrics and cracked vocals; it is of such interaction that great records are made.
What makes pop music important, if anything, is the catharsis it affords. When Matthew Ryan proffers the concept that "Everybody Always Leaves," he does it in the context of an irresistible chorus duet with Kate York, one that helps temper marvelous but depressing lines like "in the blur of some phantom wide-screen / I let go of what I never had." And, if "Love Is The Silencer" is more Billy Idol than Woody Guthrie, it is no less powerful for that.
This record works well as is, but what could be next is for Ryan to completely let go of the retro references and find new sounds that are as powerful, personal, and timeless as the songs in which he couches them. • Michael Ross